Sunday, October 28, 2012

Train to Omsk

Доброе утро всем, mы надеемся, что на прошлой неделе был большим для вас.

(Good morning everyone, we hope this past week has been a great one for you.)

We are making this entry on Monday morning, having just arrived by train from Omsk at 7am, an overnight run from 10:30pm to 7:00am.  This means of course that we also took this same train to Omsk on Friday night arriving there around 7am Saturday morning.  The train is a real experience here and we are now pretty familiar with the routine involved in that mode of transportation.  You never have to worry about the schedule for the train as they are always on time even if they have to slow down because they have been making good time – they pull into the station at the exact appointed time i.e. 6:53am – very dependable that way.  Pres and Sister Gibbons had gone to Omsk earlier in the week and I had to do some financial and record keeping training with the leadership there so we went this weekend and then travelled home with them.  While in Omsk we visited two of our sister missionaries who were in a hospital there with a staph infection which required some minor surgery.  They are recovering nicely and should be going home today.  Also, we attended church with Yulia who had worked in the office until just a couple of months ago and her husband and their new little son – Stepan.  It was so good to see them – we have missed Yulia in our office and were so excited to see the new addition to their family.  He is so cute. 

This past week we also had visitors from Salt Lake in our mission.  Sister Stephens from the Gen Relief Society Presidency and Sister Esplin from the Gen Primary Presidency, arrived Tuesday late evening.  Traveling with them were Pres and Sister Lawrence our Area President.  They all stopped in the office Wednesday and had lunch with us before going out to visit a few of the members here.  Wednesday evening they presented some training in a fireside meeting and then headed out on the overnight train to Omsk.  Thursday they spent the day in Omsk visiting and did the same training that evening for the people there.  They flew out Friday morning from Omsk for Moscow before heading home.  It was great to have them here and quite an experience for them to be in Russia as well.

It has been another awesome week, never a dull moment with constant changes and last minute details to handle.  It certainly has kept us busy.  There is much to do yet.  Coming up - Sister Conference this week, Couples Conference the next along with the big monthly visa trip for over 30 of our missionaries (1/3 of our total), then there is transfer which this month is split into two weeks as our new missionaries coming in have been delayed a week so they can process and receive their 3 yr. multiple entry Russian visas.  This is our first group to come with the new 3yr visa.  It will sure smooth things out a whole lot when everyone is on this new visa program.  We are really looking forward to when that finally happens.  Shortly after the new missionaries arrive we will head out to Kiev, Ukraine for our last visa trip.  Time is drawing short and in many ways it seems like only last week we were just arriving.  Time continues to fly by.  We love you all and look forward to seeing you all very soon.  Enjoy the week – they pass by so quickly.
Off to Omsk

Pres and Sister Lawrence, Sister Stephens, Sister Esplin
and "The Office"

Sister Webb, Yulia, Stepan and Yaroslav

Yours truly with Stepan and his parents

Leaving Omsk

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Back to Berdsk

A couple of months ago we told about our trip to Berdsk (Bared sk) on the Electriskee or electric train.  Today (Sunday, Oct 21) we had the great fortune of making another trip to that city only this time it was by car with President and Sister Gibbons and 3 of the Sister missionaries working in Novosibirsk.  Berdsk is a city of approx. 100,000 – 200,000 thousand and is much, much older than Novosibirsk having been established in the 1500’s.  Notwithstanding its size it has much in common with the little community of Entiat, Washington not far from our home in Cashmere.  Several years ago a dam was built on the river which runs past Berdsk and the original city was buried under water so the city was moved to higher ground.  Sound familiar to anyone from Chelan County, Washington?  Anyway, the city survived and is now growing.  It is about an hour northwest of Novosibirsk so the drive was quite beautiful and marred only slightly by the rain we had this morning.  Between these two cities is a beautiful “village” quite large in its own right known as Acadeemgoradok – I won’t attempt to spell it in Russian.  This is an interesting place which we visited once last winter and want so badly to visit again before we leave.  It is home to the best university in all of Siberia if not all of Russia and is one of the few “planned” communities in the country.  It has been said to be the “Silicon Valley” of Russia.  Originally, “built” by the Soviets as a community where their state of the art research facilities could be located (and isolated) without danger of attack from the outside it has become a premier academician and cultural community. 

Back to Berdsk – our trip today took us to the home of one of two active members and her husband (who is not a member) where we held Sacrament meeting with them.  In attendance where the seven of us from the car, the couple living in the home, the one other active member and joining us late, one of the couple’s sons who is also a member but not currently attending.  It was a very tender meeting, President and I administered the sacrament and each one in attendance shared a brief testimony.  We wish you all could have been with us.  The husband thanked us as we left for our visit and for “filling his home with the spirit.”  Today was one of those unforgettable experiences that you would like to have been able to share with everyone.  On our way back we talked about future possibilities in the city and perhaps even being able to locate a couple of missionaries there as early as the next transfer.

Yesterday we spent the day in training meetings as President Gibbons, Elder Gundersen and I provided training to the individual unit leaders (Branch Presidents) from all of the cities throughout the mission.  Sister Gibbons, Sister Gundersen and Sister Webb also helped in some role playing experiences as well as providing a “to die for” meal for everyone.  The training began at 10am at the mission home and concluded about 6pm.  It was a long day but very enjoyable.  Elder and Sister Gundersen stopped in on the way home and shared a little supper and we played a game before they left for home.

Also, this week we have had some great experiences as we have had lessons taught in our home.  We met some new and very interesting people, shared some wonderful moments together with them and had a great time with our “English” group on Tuesday.  Also, District meetings are “back on” at our apartment so we had 8 missionaries for a meeting and lunch on Friday.  This is really a highlight of each week and we have missed this special opportunity for the past month or so as District meetings were moved to the Branch Building without lunch being served.

We would be remiss if we did not publicly thank Heavenly Father for His special care of our family while we have been away and His many tender mercies in our behalf.  We know that He loves each of us and are so thankful for the many reminders He sends to all of us each day that He is aware of us and cares so much for us.  We too, love you all – thanks for being such wonderful friends and family.
Sacrament Mtg in Berdsk

Our training meeting
computer pic is our one attendee on skype

Taco Soup and Chips
Lunch after District Mtg

This little truck is Awesome
Got to figure out how to get one home!!!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Conference Weekend in Novosibirsk

Every week begins with a shopping trip to the Grocery store.  Elder Gushin, our mission driver and an Area 70 for the church, meets the two Senior Couples living in Novosibirsk and the two young elders serving as office elders at the Mission Office and it is off to Megas one of many different large grocery outlets in our area.  This week, however, Elder and Sister Gundersen and Sister Webb decided not to go so it was just the boys – Elder Gushin, Elder Webb and the Office Elders.  We completed our excursion in about ½ the normal time and we were all marveling at how this was possible when Elder Gushin made the comment – “no Sisters”!!!   No offense intended to any females who may be reading this blog.  It was quickly observed that we also had one less couple and only about ½ of our normal load so we quickly surmised that most probably we had forgotten many things we had been sent to purchase.  Anyway it was all good.  I returned with most of what I had been sent for and later that evening Elder and Sister Gundersen ventured over to our doma and the four of us enjoyed a video for Family Home Evening. 

Tuesday was just a day filled with all the normal office routine and meetings.

Wednesday we rode the bus out to the big Reenok.   This is the giant outdoor market full of thousands and thousands of little shops all selling the same things which we have described for you before.  Elder and Sister Gundersen were looking for winter hats, and the Sisters came along as well, looking for hats and gloves.  It ended up being very cold and windy out there, so we hurried with our shopping.  The Sisters had all worn their new winter boots so they were warm, but Sister Gundersen and I had only our walking shoes and my feet have never been so cold in the whole time we have been here.  We made friends with a little gypsy lady who asked what we were looking to buy and we told her scarves—so she led us all over the place trying to find scarves, and then she would disappear for a while, then reappear and lead us in a different direction.  Finally we told her we were done shopping and headed to the bus so she told us goodbye for the final time.  She was quite funny and we couldn’t understand much of what she said.  On the way home we stopped at the fantastic deli across the street from the office then went to the office and shared our selections for a late lunch.

Thursday Elder Webb played the piano for a funeral at the branch building.  It was a neat experience for us to see a Russian funeral.  The funeral was for a sister in the branch who was one of the very first members in Novosibirsk.  She is the mother-in-law of Brat Pyotr, who works with us in the office.   She was a very dear lady—loved by everyone in the branch for her example and her excellent teaching.  It was very sweet how many of the sisters brought flowers and placed them on the open casket.  They would get up and say something about Sister Lidia, then place the flowers on her.  And it is true what they say about giving an even number of flowers for a funeral—they were all in twos or fours.  Odd numbers of flowers are for weddings and birthdays and happy occasions.  Another thing, we had to be very careful not to smile.  We noticed everyone was very, very somber and it didn’t seem the polite thing to do to smile—even when greeting each other.  After the funeral everyone boarded two buses the family had rented (the open casket was also placed on one of the buses) and they all rode out to the cemetery.  We asked how far away the cemetery was and found out it was way outside of the city.  So we did not go to the cemetery as we needed to be back at the office but watched as everyone loaded the buses and left.  All in all, it was a very sweet experience, especially to see how loved she was by all of the people in the branch.   We ended up staying at the office until about 8pm waiting for a couple of our missionaries coming in from Kazakhstan.  Elder Webb went home for about an hour from 6pm to 7 and taught a lesson with two of the elders to two men (one of whom is a neighbor in our complex) while Sister Webb stayed so someone would be at the office when the Elders arrived.  After the elders arrived at the office, President and Sister Gibbons came into the office, Elder Webb arrived back, and we all decided to go get some dinner since it was about 8 o’clock and no one had eaten.  So we went to the Carl’s Jr that is about a mile away and enjoyed a hamburger-- a favorite place for missionaries to go.  We enjoyed visiting with Pres. and Sister Gibbons as we are planning a senior couple’s conference in a few weeks so it was nice to have some time to go over the details of that with them.  We should mention here that one of those missionaries arriving from KZ was a native Kazak on his way to serve a mission in the New York New York North Mission of the Church.

Friday night 4 young Chinese men came to our apartment for a missionary lesson.  They spoke less Russian than we do so the teaching was all in English.  It was very touching to see the earnestness and sincerity with which they approached the finding of their faith and a belief in God.  They commented several times that they had been raised their whole life being taught that there was no God but they felt in their heart there was something more for them to find – so they began their search which has led them to our missionaries. 

Saturday and Sunday we spent the day watching General Conference.  Yes we know it was last weekend and we did manage to watch a couple of sessions live, Saturday morning session we watched on Saturday evening here from 11pm to 1am.  We just couldn’t do the 3am to 5am slot as we still had a whole day facing us and we followed the same routine for the Sunday morning session.  The other sessions we managed to watch during the week.  However, the conference sessions are recorded and DVD’s are sent to the various units throughout Eastern Russia where satellite is not available so we gathered with the members and the missionaries and spent this weekend watching Conference.  The DVD’s come one set in Russian and one set in English so we set up two rooms in the church and you can choose which language you want.  It was a great weekend and with the announcement of a lower age for missionary service we are expecting an increase of about 40 missionaries within the next 6 months or so.  We have heard that the church is expecting the missionary force to increase to around 90,000 from the current level of 57,000.  The work is definitely being hastened. 

So that is part of our week in a nutshell.  We are not too excited about the upcoming snow, wind and cold, but can endure it knowing that we will be on our way home before it is over!  We hope that all of you are doing well and enjoying the fall weather—minus the smoke!!  Have a wonderful week. 
Progress on the "New" Building - 27 stories
This building was just started the end of May

Harvesting and turning in the gardens

Going to work - down our street
The mission office is just down to the right
and across the street from the building on the right

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wild & Crazy Week

Have you ever had one of those wild & crazy and totally busy weeks?  This past week was ours!  What was going on you may well ask so I will just start at the beginning – “it’s a very good place to start”.  Last Sunday at church one of the ladies who was coming to Family Home Evening let us know it was her birthday and the inflections in her voice left no doubt, even though’ the words were Russian, that she expected a birthday party.  After all we had celebrated every other birthday that had come along.  We watched as all through our three hour block at church she invited everyone she could see.  We didn’t know what to expect but we knew we had to get ready for a bunch, just in case.  We spent one whole night making “Plov” a big roaster pan full which we put on the porch (our second fridge – yes, it is getting that cold) until the party.  When the party happened only 3 people came plus of course the Gundersens, the Sister Missionaries and us.  Needless to say we have and will be eating PLOV for weeks to come.  We all had a great time and we were glad we had gotten the hint.  It was just fun to watch her enjoy the evening.

On top of the PLOV we cooked hamburger several nights this week (about 15 pounds worth) getting ready for the missionary sponsored “Mexican Night” for our Branch activity this month.  There was dancing, entertainment and plenty of food.  A great turn out with many non-members attending but still a ton of food left over - at least we will have taco hamburger to go with our PLOV for dinner the rest of this month.

This past week three missionaries left for home and 9 came out from the MTC.  It was also transfer week so there was a ton of activity in the office with people coming into the city and those leaving.  New missionary training and orientation, train and airport pick-ups and deliveries, and a host of other stuff kept all in the office quite involved all week.  It is always sad to say goodbye to the missionaries who are going home but we are so thrilled to greet the great missionaries coming to serve in Siberia – the biggest (literally) and best (naturally) mission in the entire world. 

Friday evening we were privileged to join the Gundersens for dinner at the Mission Home with Pres and Sister Gibbons.  It was a great evening of visiting and terrific food.  Pres and Sister Gibbons had just a few days before returned from the Mission Presidents Seminar followed by a 10 day visit to our Kazakhstan missionaries and members.  This was really their first chance to spend some time with the Gundersens who had arrived while they had been travelling so we felt very blest to be able to join in the evening.  We love Pres and Sister Gibbons and then to have very special friends from home here as well it was just more than we deserved. 

The perfect end of this week was of course General Conference.  We are 13 hours ahead here so to watch live on the internet we stayed up Saturday nite to watch the Saturday morning session.  We went to bed and then got up and watched Saturday afternoon session and stayed up on Sunday nite to watch the Sunday morning session and then up Monday morning to watch the Sunday afternoon session.  So now we are pretty wiped out but will catch up this week.  It should be a little slower for us.  All our love to everyone and have a great week.
Birthday girl next to Sister Webb and two guests

Special poster from Home - thanks Laurel Class
Everyone in the office got a real charge out of this.  Remember
the only other one such they have seen was Sister Webbs
birthday poster for the Gibbons'

Viva Mexico

What is a Fiesta without a Pinata

Susnset from our Kitchen this past week

Our own private performance on the Mandolina
This is Yaraslav our Branch Presidents oldest